Becky asked Dr. L, the Integrative Medicine cancer specialist, directly, “What are the odds that Tom will get the side effects from his treatment given his age and good health?”
Dr. L didn’t hesitate. “100%” He then paused for a few moments before adding, “We just don’t know which ones will show up and when they will happen.”
I mentally reviewed the list I’d been studying the last few weeks as he continued. Fatigue, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, hand and foot syndrome, skin rash, numbness or tingling in hands and feet. I tried to recall the rest of the assorted side effects stored in my mind, but they seemed to elude me. In that moment, the list and his proclamation of 100% weighed heavy. No one else had been that direct with us.
During the first three days of treatment my most evident side effect was fatigue. I had no reserves in the tank to do much more than what I needed to do. Sleep, managing my energy expenditures and rest seemed to be the best solution to the empty tank.
But Dr. L had a different prescription.
“Walk. You should have a daily practice of walking for at least 30 minutes. And if you can, do it a second time.”
He supported his directive by explaining that the very best response to fatigue was to do the thing that seemed completely counterintuitive—expend energy. He suggested that despite not knowing why it worked, there’s plenty of evidence to show that walking reduces fatigue, and as an added bonus, it’s shown to support more effective treatment.
I took that one in easily. It went on my daily to-do list. I would certainly walk. In fact, I would walk twice a day if at all possible. And I would do more. I’d do my stretches and also the new kettle bell exercises I’d been working on. I’d fight the fatigue. I thanked him for making it so clear.
And then Dr. L made an even more sobering disclosure. “Expect to only be able to do 60% of what you think you can accomplish each day.”
His statement hit me hard in the gut. I’ve had a lifetime of boundless capacity. I’ve always been able to do more than expected. There’s invariably more fuel in my tank. In fact, it’s been one of the underlying beliefs I’ve held about myself for most of my life.
In school I was never the smartest, most athletic or most talented. But, I was the one who worked the hardest and did more. I hustled and was rewarded as captain of my athletic teams, leader of the band and student council. It’s been my M.O. since then.
As an entrepreneur and business owner, it’s been a trait I’ve considered my secret sauce. I’ve put in the long hours for years. I’ve crammed years into months and saw it as a badge of honor. I’m the extra miles guy. I read more. I research more. I prepare more.
And, I’ve proven it again recently. In the last few months, I’ve felt a lot of pride for doing extreme amounts of research on my specific cancer diagnosis, treatment and everything else I could learn related to it. I felt good about myself for doing so much.
But with the statement about my capacity from Dr. L, a new side effect emerged for me—a challenge to my identity and sense of myself.
I am not a 60% guy. In Dr. L’s office I inwardly fight the notion. “That won’t be me. I will give this 150%.”
But, over much of this last weekend, as I lay on the couch immobilized by the fatigue, it became evident that my belief about myself might not withstand this new reality. The value I’ve placed on my capacity to do “more” smacks into a wall of tiredness that I cannot climb over. I feel like I’m lucky hitting 50% right now and I’m struggling with what it means about me.
In my couch-time quietness some questions emerge that challenge my fragile ego. Is my value dependent on my ability to do more? More than what? More than who? If I can only live at 60% capacity, am I okay with that? What if I had zero capacity right now? What then?
And underneath these swirling questions, I am struck by the power of the beliefs I have carried about myself for so long. This pressure I have felt to “be more” and “give more” and “do more” has been a constant companion. It’s not lost on me that this 150% approach could have been a contributor to my current health diagnosis. I recognize how these beliefs and actions have served me till now, and that it may be time to update them.
So, I’m going to try the 60% approach. I’m going to walk 18 minutes a day. I’m going to arrive at the office at 8 and leave at 4:30. I’m not going to start or take on any new projects right now.
I’m going to… Dang, there I go again.